Authors: Natasha Anders
“I’ll be back in a few minutes for your drink orders,” she said perkily after lighting the ubiquitous candle in the center of the round table. It was pretty gloomy in their corner, and Bronwyn worried about Bryce’s ability to lip-read in the bad light.
Do you need a little more light?
she signed, and he shook his head.
“I can see you fine.” He smiled, his eyes running over her face like a silent caress.
“Oh.” She blushed, his blatantly sensual look making her feel more than a little hot under the collar. There were a few moments of silence before Bryce spoke.
“Are you enjoying the new place?” he asked.
“Of course.” She said. “Kayla’s still having problems sleeping at night though.”
“It’s confusing for her. She’ll get used to the new routine soon.” His smile was bittersweet. The server came back for their drink orders, and after they had ordered, Bryce refocused his attention on her. “What about you? How are you adjusting to your new lifestyle?”
“It’s not that much different from life in Plett. Aside from the fact that we have money, of course, and I don’t
have to work and I no longer worry about Kayla when I’m away from her.” She laughed self-deprecatingly before shaking her head. “Okay, it’s a
different from our life in Plett. Anyway, I miss her, of course, but I know that she’s with you and that she’s safe.” She was half signing every other sentence, still concerned with the lighting in the place.
“Do you?” he murmured, his eyes intent on her lips.
“Of course,” she dismissed airily. “I don’t know if I’ve said it before, Bryce, but you’re great with her.”
“I didn’t think I would be,” he admitted awkwardly, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “Being around kids is . . .
way out of my comfort zone. I enjoy them but I don’t always feel . . .”
He hesitated and she leaned forward intently, sensing that he was considering his next words very carefully.
“Confident around them,” he completed, his voice kind of fading away on the last word. Baffled, she stared at him for a long moment before shaking her head.
“I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean when you use the word ‘confident,’” she said bluntly. “Confident in your ability to take care of them, you mean?”
“That, and I don’t trust myself not to lose my temper around them.” Again she could see how difficult that was for him to admit, and she knew that she had to tread very carefully here.
“Kayla does like to test my patience,” she said with a fond smile. “And I have lost my temper with her on a few occasions, but it’s all about how you handle the situation, and quite frankly, Bryce, you’re a pushover when it comes to her. She knows that she can get away with way more than she ever could with me.”
The server returned with their drinks and asked if they were ready to order. They both darted guilty glances down at the menu—they hadn’t even thought about food yet. Recognizing their looks, the girl laughed and promised to return in a couple of minutes. After they had taken care of the business of ordering, Bronwyn turned expectant eyes on him, waiting for him to pick up where he had left off.
Bryce took what looked like a fortifying sip of his red wine before raising his eyes to meet hers.
“You were right when you accused me of keeping stuff from you during our marriage,” he said, surprising her by steering the conversation into a completely different direction. “Stuff I felt that you didn’t need to know. Stuff I thought you’d see as weakness. Stuff that I was too embarrassed to tell you. I once told you that you made me feel like an all-conquering hero, that you made me feel like I could take on the world. It really was a heady feeling, Bron. I enjoyed being your ‘hero,’ the ‘prince’ who had swept you off your feet.
“I never expected to find a woman who made me feel like a hero instead of the villain I’d always believed myself to be. So, instead of telling you everything you needed to know about me, I allowed you to think that I was this
man. I spent two years trying to maintain that illusion and trying to live up to the inaccurate impression you had of me. When something went wrong at the office, I bottled it up and kept it from you. I closeted myself away to work it out alone rather than allow my frustration with whatever problem I had to spill over into our lives.”
“Bryce.” She was a little stunned by his revelations and tried to gather her thoughts before responding. “I never expected you to be this
heroic husband. I fell in love with a man, not a superhero.”
“You didn’t know the real man, Bron,” he said heavily. “And that’s why I had to sign those papers. I wanted to give you a chance to get to know me. Flaws and all. I wanted us to have a fresh start, to go back to the beginning. I wanted this dinner to be a new beginning for us.”
“So, let me get this straight, you agreed to a divorce because you wanted us to start
again?” she asked incredulously. Not quite sure she had understood him correctly.
“Basically . . . yes,” he confirmed, and Bronwyn felt like the top of her head was about to blow off. She actually lifted a hand to her face, almost certain that steam was billowing from her nose and ears like she was some maddened cartoon character. Unfortunately their server chose that moment to return, and Bronwyn waited impatiently while the woman offloaded the piping-hot, aromatic bowls of pasta and crispy garlic bread onto the table in front of them. As soon as the server left, Bronwyn turned her frowning gaze back on the uncomfortable-looking man sitting across from her.
“And did you really think, after the emotional turmoil of the last few months, that I’d be on board with this scheme of yours?” she asked, trying extremely hard to rein in her temper, unable to believe the absolute arrogance of the man. “And what’s this? Phase One of some big reconciliation plot?”
“There is no such thing,” he said quietly. “I was just
you’d understand what motivated me.”
“You wanted to start a new, honest relationship by deceiving me into coming out to dinner with you? I mean, what is this if not luring me here under false pretences? I’m not quite feeling the honesty here, Bryce,” she pointed out sarcastically. He had the grace to look repentant.
“I didn’t say it would be an easy habit to break, Bron,” he said uneasily, and she swallowed down the irreverent giggle that wanted to burble from her lips. For some unfathomable reason, she was both irritated and oddly charmed by his flagrant presumption. She felt so many conflicting emotions that she wasn’t quite sure how to approach this crazy new spanner that he had tossed into the works. Part of her wanted to move on and rebuild her life without him in it, a larger
to know why he had such a low opinion of himself. She wanted to know why he thought he was a villain. She didn’t for a second believe that the man she had fallen in love with had never existed, but it disturbed her that
clearly thought that. Still, they couldn’t keep going around in circles like this. It wasn’t doing either of them any good.
Bryce, I don’t know if I can go another round with you
, she signed sadly.
It’s so exhausting.
“For now, let’s try to enjoy our dinner,” he suggested. “Nothing more, nothing less. Just dinner. Okay?”
She hesitated for a long moment before nodding with a resigned little sigh.
“Okay. Just dinner.”
The rest of the evening wasn’t as strained as Bronwyn had expected it to be after that outrageous conversation. Bryce kept her entertained with his tales of Kayla’s daytime antics. He didn’t touch on the controversial subject of dating again, but it remained there between them, the huge elephant sitting at the table with them.
The wind was howling when they left the restaurant a couple of hours later, and a combination of rain and hail was viciously pelting down on Cal who dashed over to meet them when they paused under the eaves of the restaurant. The huge black umbrella that Cal held up over his head was being buffeted by the wind, and Bronwyn didn’t have high hopes for its survival. It was mid-June and winter—which had been late in arriving—was gleefully showing off its jagged teeth. Cape Town was notorious for its terrible winter storms, and this one, which had arrived without much warning, looked like it was going to be one of the bad ones. They quickly decided that bringing Kayla home from Rick and Lisa’s place in such bad weather wasn’t a good idea, and they ducked back into the restaurant for a few minutes while Bronwyn called Lisa to ask if Kayla could sleep over. The other woman readily agreed with their decision and put the sleepy little girl on the line to say good night to her parents. Kayla sounded happy enough but Bronwyn was naturally worried, as Kayla had never spent a night away from either of her parents before. After a few more minutes of reassurance, Bronwyn hung up and met Bryce’s concerned gaze.
“You okay?” he asked, and she nodded, blinking back the sheen of tears. Kayla’s first overnight stay away from her parents was a big deal, and Bronwyn felt more than a little emotional about it.
“She’ll be fine.” Bryce gave her a self-conscious one-armed hug. Bronwyn was touched by his masculine awkwardness at the sight of her tears, and she gave him a wobbly smile as he led her back outside. Once again they hesitated under the eaves, where poor Cal had been left waiting.
I don’t want you to drive home in this weather
, he signed urgently. Bronwyn stared out at the deluge and tended to agree with him. She definitely didn’t fancy driving in this downpour. The near gale-force winds didn’t help matters. She bit her lip as she stared out at their cars parked by the sidewalk. Unfortunately Bryce had dismissed Paul before they’d even left the bookshop, stating that he and Cal would ensure that Bronwyn got home safely.
Cal can drive you. I’ll follow
, he signed authoritatively, and she shook her head. She didn’t like that suggestion at all, not with Bryce being an uneasy driver himself, but she knew that protesting for that reason wouldn’t sit too well with his pride.
“Bronwyn, you can’t mean to argue with me on this matter,” he said aloud. “I know you don’t want to drive in this weather.”
We can all go in your car
, she decided.
Paul can pick mine up in the morning.
He looked a little stunned by that decision but agreed quickly as if he were afraid that she would change her mind.
Cal—who was proficient in sign language and had been following the conversation—looked relieved that they had made up their minds and ushered them toward Bryce’s sleek car.
“Do you think my car will be okay here?” she asked Cal worriedly as he held the car door open for them.
“Don’t worry about it, ma’am, I’ll have one of my guys pick it up tonight,” he assured her.
“I don’t want to inconvenience anybody, and this weather is atrocious.”
“It’s our job,” Cal said with a polite smile. “We’ll take care of it.” Realizing that he wasn’t going to bend on the matter, Bronwyn ducked her head and climbed into the back of the car; Bryce followed, his bulk taking up most of the space in the backseat. Bronwyn immediately felt boxed in, but he seemed to be aware of how uncomfortable she was, so he kept to his side of the car. Despite his attempts not to crowd her, Bronwyn was still hyperaware of his larger-than-life presence. Naturally conversation was severely limited because of the lack of light, and she tried not to squirm during the short drive from the restaurant to her new home.
She unthinkingly tried to start a conversation to alleviate the awkwardness but was immediately aware of the futility of the gesture. The words died in her throat before they had even properly formed. That left her to toy with the buckle of her seat belt, and after a few minutes of restless fidgeting, she jumped when his warm hand closed over her fingers.
He didn’t say anything, merely lifted her hand to his lips and dropped a sweet kiss onto her sensitive palm. Her breath caught as she tried to see his face in the gloom, but she couldn’t see anything other than the whites of his eyes. He squeezed her hand reassuringly before dropping it gently into her lap.
When they arrived at her townhouse, Cal asked her to open the electronic gates and slid the car to a smooth stop right at the front door. He dashed out to open the door on her side, and as she ducked beneath the umbrella he held up for her, she heard the other door open and saw that Bryce had exited the car as well. Before she could utter a word of protest, he had rounded the car and dismissed Cal, taking the umbrella from the other man and walking her to the front door himself. When they reached the lit porch, she turned to him with a nervous smile.
“Thanks for dinner,” she said quickly, not sure what else to say really. He continued to look down at her, his handsome face and hair wet from the lashing rain. He really wasn’t getting much protection from the large umbrella, focusing his attention on keeping her dry instead.
“I’m sorry if you thought I was being deceptive tonight, Bron,” he said after a few long moments of silence. “That wasn’t my intention.”